I've been wanting to explore these five years for a long time. I found the impetus with the deaths of Charles Manson and David Cassidy. Other than long hair, these two have nothing in common. However, they both represent a certain part of the cultural zeitgeist after 1969. I want to examine, from the perspective of a preteen, my naive sense memories from those time.
My folks were older--Greatest Generation. My peers usually had grandparents their age. So I sort of self-educated on television and media. Keep in mind, the Vietnam debacle was in full swing and Nixon came into power. The culture wars that were going on at the time were as vociferous (and as dangerous) as now...witness the 1968 Chicago Dem Convention. 1968 also saw two devastating assassinations with MLK and RFK. Of course, I wasn't cognizant of all the politics at the time. I was watching Hanna Barbera cartoons on Saturday morning and listening to Disney records. I am fascinated to this day, though, by the history of this period and find books to read on it as if I'm making up for being alive during turbulent times and not having a clue.
That goes for Manson as well. I had no clue about him or his satanic crimes until I sort of half-watched a miniseries, Helter Skelter, based on Bugliosi's best selling retelling. It was horrific...as were many of the made-for-television films and recreations at the time. (They were much more graphic in the seventies than you would think.) And in no way am I minimizing his reign of terror. I am simply recollecting how it affected my perception of counterculture at the time.
That "counterculture" was experienced through interaction with relations who were, I would imagine--to simplify--hippies. Although far removed from the sex and drugs and music, there was a tangential "contact high" if you will. Many of my peers--slightly younger--had parents that fit this profile. Many didn't. They may have had late Greatest Generation parents--possibly Korean War veterans, Eisenhower era Father Knows Best types that were struggling with mod sideburns. Witness the neocons at the time: Cheney and Bush (google images). Many of the boomers were restricted from anything reeking of anti-establishment (in sort of post-bloom by now). I do recall at school and day camps seeing compatriots being picked up by bead-wearing, fully bearded dads. And, as sheltered as I was, I couldn't avoid the contact with mini-reprobates that would gladly regale with me with words I didn't know and bodily functions I found foreign. I can't even imagine what they say now and don't want to.
Television, however, shed me of my innocence. I mean "'being woke." As I have regaled exponentially in my previous writings, the sitcoms of Norman Lear and the Children's Television Workshop provided an education in diversity and non-inclusiveness. In retrospect, the political correctness was not quite "correct" but it was nevertheless instructive in the right direction--a sentiment that somehow cannot be approached today amongst certain post-Boomer liberals. LBJ's Great Society was in full swing and I am so happy to have actually gone to school in a fresh stew of cultures and colors. Even after our first African-American president, that feels in nearly full retreat now thanks to a neoliberalist agenda.
So when I think of the Manson chronicles, it's not a first-hand feeling of disgust and dread. It's more a patchouli laced haze of psychedelia and brown-hued sixteen millimeter news grit. Even kids shows--the Krofft menagerie--were borne of acid fever dreams. The Manson girls, in their blond beach babe fresh-faced appearance, inspire the lust I had for my college-age babysitters more than shock and awe nightmares. I will never forget one of my sitters, in her hippie attire--probably could be my granddaughter nowadays--introducing me to music I had no idea about. I was frightened by the poster of the Beatles on her wall.
That's where Keith Partridge comes in. Boomers would agree that the Bradys were just too squeaky clean even in their dealings with scrupulous music agents. However, their Friday night cohorts, the Partridges, were far more "cool." David Cassidy's hair is what I wanted...so bad. His poster was on the wall of all those babysitters. He was the essence of the "clean" hippie persona. I suppose even in my Pollyanna world, my dark id recognized the potential thrill of being a subversive so well represented by a wholesome traveling family band represented by a bumbling nice guy out of central casting. (He would never lay a hand on Shirley--that we know).
I never saw the cinema at the time. Most of those early seventies classics were rebroadcast on the networks--edited with commercials. But that was enough for me. I still got that sleaziness. That sort of New York pre-Times Square grime, that representation of urban decay that was now required viewing. That led to, for me, the highlight of American cinema when directors and not studios were in control. That was due to everyone watching All in the Family and The Waltons--a strange paradox of the times in and of itself. When I watch films by Hal Ashby, Robert Altman, early Coppolla and Depalma, Sidney Lumet--I am transported to those times. I wasn't a spectator or participant. But I WAS there.
I can't speak to the music at the time. Which was revolutionary. I'll leave that to others. In my cloistered existence anarchic music was represented by The Carpenters or BJ Thomas. Sometimes my dad would go crazy and bring home a 45 of Neil Diamond or Cheech and Chong (I'll never get over that one!) And nothing will give you a flavor of the times more than Playboy Magazine. Pubic hair was now shown--and the interviews were the best journalism of the time. Highly intellectual discourse amongst a new sexual freedom--tinged with key party ethics and polyester.
Even after being educated on the Manson murders, it still somehow feels quaint by today's standards. Perhaps that's because movies and television, even the most mainstream, is littered with mutilations, beheadings, impalements and disembowelments--graphically depicted--that would make Charlie himself squeamish. That's not really a joke. Have you watched FX lately? And when I see David Cassidy, it reminds me of how a teen idol didn't have to cover themselves with tattoo, brag about 'being bad," experiment with the wildest drugs and express profanity in order to be considered a pop superstar.
Oh, well. I got a hug from Maureen McCormick once. That's enough for me. Peace.
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